The Red Box Model for Printing Services

February 25 2010 – 01:40pm

I remember back in 2001, when I was home from college one summer, I rented quite a few movies. Every time I went to the movie store, the same thing puzzled me: why was there so much space wasted? Many of the independent movies I wanted to watch at the time were hard to come by in Omaha, Nebraska, and the fact that a 3,000 square foot movie store didn’t have enough variety added insult to injury. “Instead of a movie store, it should just be a giant vending machine full of movies.” Nowadays, there are Redbox vending machines in every grocery store, full of movies.

Redbox wasn’t the only company to recognize and attack this waste of resources. NetFlix was clearly way ahead of me in recognizing this, founded in 1997.

This makes me think of another market opportunity I’ve seen emerge. Printing services.

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Owning a printer is a complete pain in the ass, and – for most people – it’s really not worth it. Inkjet printers break constantly, and their cartridges are expensive, and dry out. Laser printers are generally too expensive. Not to mention printers are ugly and take up lots of space.

So, I gave up on owning a printer years ago. Even running my own business, I don’t do much printing. I’ve managed to get by without a printer most of the time. On occasion, I have to print something.

So, I send my prints to Kinko’s Docstore. I upload the file, pay, then go pick up the prints a few hours later. It’s much cheaper page-per-page than going to the store and printing. The other day I printed a Groupon (an act which should have been unnecessary), and it cost me 24 cents.

24 cents for a human to receive my file, print it out, along with a page with details on the print job, and stuff it into a bag. The human then diverted his attention from other customers in the store to hand me this bag. A day later, another human called me to make sure that the job had been done right.

Needless to say, FedEx (Kinko’s) didn’t make a profit off of my print job. But, I’m sure such ridiculously trivial jobs are probably more commonplace than they used to be.

I would guess more people are forgoing having home printers. They so rarely need them. More people, now jobless, are starting their own businesses. Their limited capital and time isn’t wisely spent in buying and maintaining a printer.

So, why is there no printing “vending machine.” I send my simple print job to a remote vending machine in my neighborhood (maybe at my local grocery store). It prints it, sends me an email or SMS, and I go pick it up as I run errands. A camera inside could keep records of the printouts to settle disputes over print jobs gone wrong.

It’s printer ownership as a service. The Redbox. The ZipCar. Of printing.

But, there’s assumptions. As digital media downloads will probably kill Redbox, would an eventual elimination of paper kill this machine and business? Do you have a printer? How often do you print? Would you use this?

Redbox photo from saaby

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This post is filed under Business, Ideas.